All the way to China
The Chadwicks had finally received notification that Jonathan, the eight-year-old boy whom they had been fostering for three years, was now officially part of the family. Susan knew what adoption meant to her – an option she had taken upon herself. Her husband, Charles, was a Latin scholar, and she thought he would approve her etymological conclusion. The agency had been most helpful in small ways without compromising its bureaucratic neutrality. What a lot of long words for such a simple case of a boy needing parents.
That had been three months ago, and Jonathan, now called JJ at his own request, had stamped his seal firmly onto the family crest. At times, of course, he could be difficult, but both Susan and Charles had confidently disciplined him when they thought necessary. In all, he was understanding of his errant ways. He was a good lad.
One day at dinner, he expressed an interest in having a brother.
"He could sit there, across from me. We could share clothes and play my games together. I'd even let him look at my airplanes, but only if he promised to be careful."
"What would you call your brother?"
"James. I already thought of that."
"I think, son, you could easily find a friend. Maybe not named James, of course."
"Yea! A friend. Good idea, Dad."
When Susan went to say good night to JJ that evening, he was lying oddly on the bed.
"No, Mum! James is sleeping there! You'll wake him."
"Well, when he needs to get up, tell him I said good night."
"OK, Mum. Oh, can he stay here tomorrow when I'm at school? I don't want him there right away, OK?"
"I'll keep a good eye on him, JJ."
"Remember, his name is James."
"All right, I will."
JJ came home from school the next day and ran to his room. He burst out again.
"Mum! Have you seen my drawing for art class?"
"No. You haven't shown it to me yet."
"I don't mean like that. I mean, have you seen it? I can't find it."
"No. Maybe James took it." Susan waited for a laugh or something – anything. JJ just stood there looking at her with widened eyes. His lips moved, but he was silent. "JJ? What's wrong?"
"I – uh – I forgot about James. Is he still here – somewhere?"
"He might not be here all the time, you know. Maybe just when he's in the neighbourhood. Or when you invite him. Like a real friend."
"Yea. I'll find him. Mum? Can I have – may I have a dollar to buy James some sweets? He might be hungry when he comes back."
The next day, JJ returned from school later than usual. "I found James," he said to his mother. "He was here in the garden."
Charles was standing nearby and asked, "Is James going to help you with your arithmetic tonight, or shall I do it as usual?"
"Dad! James doesn't know arithmetic. But he does know how to tie knots - all kinds of knots. He told me his dad was a scape artist. Like Hoo – "
"Yea. Houdini. James Houdini. Scape artist."
"JJ, you can learn even more about knots in Scouts. Maybe he — say, you said you found him in the garden. Where is he now? Is he here?"
"He went to my room. We're going to practise magic tricks."
"OK. Just be ready for dinner. Then your dad'll help you with your homework."
"Mum, Dad? James said we should get a dog. A real dog. A big dog. An Alstation."
"Well, JJ, we had been thinking about it recently."
"JJ, what would be a good name for the dog? Al?"
"No! Gee, I don't know. Hmm."
"Well, you can still think about it for a while yet, son. We're only — "
"Gemini! Like the space rocket capsule we saw on that programme."
"Gemini? A boy dog or a girl dog?"
"Don't matter, does it? Just an Alstation."
"Al-SA-tian. One thing, though. He – or she – has got to sleep downstairs. Not in the bedroom."
"And we can build a dog house, right, Dad?"
* * *
"JJ? Did you break this?"
"This lamp. Was it you – or was it Gemini?"
"No, Mum! I – I think it was James."
"Oh? Just like he spilled paint on the carpet upstairs? Or knocked over the bookcase?"
"Mum! I wasn't even here when that happened, was I? Now you're going to blame me for the chocolate you said was missing, too, I'll bet."
"No, I just can't find it. It's baking chocolate, anyway, so no one's going to eat it."
Later that evening, Susan sat on the sofa with Charles, watching Scientific Television. Susan's eyes drifted from the screen as she paid more attention to a shadow at the sliding door to the patio. The curtain was not drawn, but behind the gathered cloth it looked like something was moving.
"Gemini! Here, boy! Gemini, come here. Gemini? Charles, look over there. You see the curtain moving?"
"It's a breeze. The door's open. You opened it, remember?"
"No. I closed it, remember? I said it was draughty."
Charles got up and slid the door shut with a bang.
"Charles, I closed that. I'm certain I did."
"Where's Gemini? He didn't come when you called."
"No. Oh, no! Look. He's outside on the patio. He must have got out of his yard."
"Hope he hasn't been digging again."
JJ came to breakfast holding a thick block of chocolate.
"Here, Mum. I found this under my bed. I told you James took it."
"Whatever for? He needs a good talking to."
"Don't give him any breakfast. I got too full when I had to eat what you gave him yesterday."
"Is he coming down?"
"No. I told him I was mad at him. I think he's skulking."
"Sulking? Maybe he has to go away again for a while. What do you think? Friends need some freedom, too. How long ago did you – uh – meet James? Four, five months ago?"
"He gets on my goat sometimes. I'd like to really wallop him one!"
"Send him packing, JJ! Before he gets you into real trouble."
"Like I said before, son, you need a real friend. Too bad there aren't any boys your age around here."
"Dad? Should I join the Scouts, do you think? And Mum, I'm going to send James packing! He never wants to be called Jimmy or even Jim. I'll start getting on his goat and call him Jim. Maybe he'll get mad enough to go away himself. Oops! Gotta get to school. Bye!"
"So, is that how it ends? I never had an imaginary friend, did you?"
"No, but I've read about it in magazines. Good Lord! What's that noise?"
"Came from upstairs!"
Susan and Charles hurried up, but the noise stopped as suddenly as it had started. They checked their bedroom, then JJ's room. It was a shambles – the little school desk was tipped over, the bed pulled away from the wall, the dresser drawers pulled out, clothes scattered, JJ's toys thrown around. The window was open. Charles looked out but didn't see anything. He and Susan decided to leave the room as it was to show JJ.
When he got back from school, JJ came in through the patio door and said to his parents, who were sitting on the sofa, "Gemini went digging again."
"Jim and you? Is he here now?"
"No, Dad, not Jim and me – Gemini. He's been digging in the garden."
"Your father will check, JJ. Come with me up to your room. I want to show you something."
"Mum! What happened? Did Gemini go crazy up here, or what?"
"You don't know anything about this?"
"I swear, Mum! But Gemini couldn't open those drawers! It looks – yea! – it looks like a burglary! Someone was searching for something. Money or jewels or secret papers. But I don't have anything like that. Mum? What happened?"
"Probably a burglar. You're right. We should have called the police right away. We thought it was you, except for the noise."
"This is the work of James, I'll bet. I'll get rid of him as soon as I see his nasty face again! This is it! The final straw."
"I'll help you clean up, JJ. You check if anything's missing."
* * *
According to JJ, James, had gone "all the way to China". That had been a month ago, and the Chadwick household had since returned to normal, with only Gemini to cause any disturbance. Then a letter arrived from the adoption agency. There was a delicate matter to discuss, not suitable for the telephone. Could Susan and Charles write to confirm the suggested appointment time for a conference when Jonathan was at school? It was urgent. And confidential. A stamped, self-addressed envelope was enclosed.
"Mr and Mrs Chadwick, please don't be alarmed if I sound mysterious. First, I must say that we did not tell you Jonathan's entire family history during the fostering or the adoption process. It was, and is, standard policy to hold back certain details. Jonathan's natural parents are both still alive, as you may or may not have wondered. The mother is in a mental facility in Toronto. The father is, or was, in a prison in Hong Kong. We have just had word that he has escaped and has kidnapped his other son. Yes, Jonathan has a brother, James. A twin brother, actually."
"Yes, both given up for adoption or care when they were just six months old. James was adopted by a family now living in Hong Kong. The father had discovered this and travelled there last year to attempt to see James. He was arrested on unrelated charges of drug smuggling and sent to prison. It seems he was rather skilled at lock-picking, bribery, and so on, and managed to escape quite easily. And – we think he might be on his way back here to try to approach Jonathan."
"What is his name? May I ask? Or is it confidential?"
"Oh, I couldn't tell you that, at least not at the moment."
"Just tell me, does it sound like Houdini?"
"A bit, yes."
"Could we request protection for JJ?"
"We'll arrange protection for you all. I have a feeling there is something peculiar about all this."
When Charles and Susan got home, JJ was in the yard playing with Gemini. They got on so well together. Whatever else had come of the James affair, at least it had resulted in getting a dog for JJ. The James Affair. Now there would be a protection officer checking on them at random moments. There was already a special app installed on their telephones to alert the police and the adoption agency in case of an emergency.
* * *
A month passed. It was a long, tense time for all. JJ had been shown a photo from the agency of "someone to watch out for". He was to go immediately to the police if he spotted the man, and never let him get near. If he was at home when he saw the man, he was to ring the police and lock all the outside doors. In fact, at home, JJ was never left alone, and when out, he was accompanied by one of the protection officers assigned to them. Gemini slept in the dog house but was allowed to roam the garden outside his fenced-in yard at night to keep strangers away. He was a good barker and sounded much fiercer than he was.
One morning, Charles went into the garden and found Gemini asleep under a tree. He seemed groggy and was difficult to rouse.
"What's up, old boy? Too much booze last night?"
Charles stayed with him until he seemed better. Then, walking back to the patio, he noticed a patch of soil near the rose bushes that looked freshly dug.
"Gemini! Come here, boy. What's this? Been digging again? No! Gemini! Don't start over. No more digging, you hear? No, stop!"
But Gemini had it in his mind that he was supposed to dig, and so he dug. Charles tried pulling him away, but a paw had got caught on a root. Charles bent down to disentangle him and pulled up the root. It was not a root. It was a rope. Charles pulled more, loosening the already loose soil, uncovering a glimpse of plastic, like a sheet.
"Dig, Gemini! I'll be right back."
He returned with a spade and saw that the dog had dug all around what looked like a package. Buried treasure? Stolen goods? Evidence of a crime? He called Susan, who heard the urgency in his voice, and she came out quickly, JJ following her.
"Get that protection officer over here right away. I'm going to dig just a bit more to see how big this thing is."
"Why? What are you talking about? Do you know what this is? JJ? Do you?"
Gemini had started walking toward JJ, then stopped, his hackles raised. Officer Hood came up. He was a new one, and Susan had explained as much as she could before he took over the digging. JJ slowly back away from the scene. Officer Hood dug his way around the package, wrapped in a grey plastic rubbish bag, heavily taped, then expertly tied all over with rope. It was about the size of —
A Hole in One
For Helen, cooking was a religion, one of her several religions. She and James had married in a church, but no one had cooked during the ceremony. It was not that sort of religion. James was another of her religions: she worshipped and adored him. Their Sunday religion was golf. It was Helen who had taught James the game, but he never seemed to improve. He was a practising golfer.
Sundays used to be reserved for lovemaking, baby-making, but no baby had ever arrived, even after twelve years of trying. Golf was their relief now, that thwack of the ball an orgasmic release of their built-up tensions and passions. Putts were just little pecks on the cheek by comparison. A hole in one would have meant a baby.
Helen had always wanted a son, a little James, James Junior, the son of her god. Not that she herself thought of any of these – cooking, golfing, or James – as a religion. She was not the type to be bothered by or with philosophical contemplation. There was no need to complicate further an already complicated existence, she thought.
James had wanted a roast turkey for Christmas. Helen had been busy planning and preparing, even though the big meal would be just the two of them. None of their families had ever visited them after they emigrated to New Zealand. Helen and James had essentially started over after their lives back home had turned so unfruitful.
Using a gift certificate she had won in a short-story competition and needed to use by the end of the year, Helen had ordered the bird from an on-line shop shipping frozen poultry from the North Island. She had asked for a ten-pound tom turkey, but what arrived was a ten-KILO tom – a monster tom which would not fit in the freezer unless she took nearly everything else out. There were still ten days before she needed it, so she kept it in the styrofoam box it had come in and put it in the cellar.
As if a religious miracle had occurred, Tom was perfectly thawed out on roasting day. Helen knew her way around a turkey and did not need to check recipes for cooking time or temperature. Her culinary skills were innate, her touch as sensitive as a surgeon's, her other senses like those of a scientist, or a healer. She was not superstitious, as some cooks were. Clove spikes were not symbolic of the nails on the Cross, rosemary did not represent remembrance, and love was certainly not symbolised by oregano. Lemons, perhaps, but not oregano. Still, she cooked with the reverence that good food deserves.
As she prepared Tom for stuffing, she took off her wedding ring, that symbol of eternal love, after having lost it once in a tuna casserole. She shamelessly stuck her hand into Tom's rear cavity to clean out the bloody stringy bits. There were no giblets for gravy, however; Tom had not been in a generous mood on the day of his death. She had prepared the stuffing the day before – chestnuts, onions, quince, dried tomatoes. With her now well-lubricated fingers, Helen began penetrating between the breast and the skin. Here she would stuff an assortment of flavours – garlic, ginger, herbs, lemon slices, spices. As she worked her way farther into the breast pocket, she briefly felt dizzy, then recovered. A déjà vu, a déjà vécu – the sensation focussed her attention on the breast meat under her fingertips, the smooth flesh yielding to her special touch, the magic glow from her fingers, soothing, healing, annealing, melting and fusing the flesh of fingers with breast. A fruitful union.
It was the same tingling thrill burning in her skull as she had felt when the newspaper boy had been struck by a wildly driven golf ball a few weeks before. No one else had been around except Helen, out for a walk. She had seen him from far off and, wanting to talk, had started toward him when he fell.
"Bobby!" She ran to him. He was on the stone path outside the golf course, wearing his gym shoes, shirt, and shorts. His head lay oddly twisted on his chest, his left thigh bleeding from a deep cut from a sharp rock where he had collapsed. "Bobby!"
Helen got no response. She shouted, "Help! Someone! Help!" She checked his pulse, lifted an eyelid, felt the bruise on his forehead where the ball had struck him. He seemed just dazed or knocked out, but she knew she needed to get help. She telephoned the emergency number and described the incident and their location. She was told to keep him lying on the ground and not to move his head, then wait for the ambulance to arrive.
The wound on Bobby's thigh needed cleaning. She brushed off the dirt and gravel, then put the palm of her other hand over the cut. The blood felt thick, already congealing. She rubbed the wound with her palm, and it seemed to respond to her touch. The blood warmed and thinned. Something – a vein or a muscle – twitched, and Helen moved her hand upward to it. So soft, so supple. She caressed the tender thigh, feeling its strength, its power to draw her hand yet higher, under the hem of his shorts, up to the cotton briefs he wore beneath. She dared move her fingers under the cloth to Bobby's moist groin. She felt a warmth that — Just then, she heard the ambulance approaching. She gently removed her hand and looked at her fingers before sniffing them.
Now, she pulled her hand away from Tom and was sniffing the shiny tips of her fingers when James rushed into the kitchen. "Did you hear the ambulance, Helen? It's the paperboy, Bobby Leahy. The ambulance hit him speeding to an accident. He was on his bike. I was on the porch getting the paper. It happened just in front. I think he's dead. That's what — Helen? Did you hear me? Did you hear what I said?"
Helen's head was bent over the turkey, kissing the left thigh to take the pain away.
David Pearce is a Swiss writer whose stories have appeared in Purple Wall, rabidwriting, The Dog Tales of Bowling Green, and notanothercyclingforum. He has just finished a book recreating certain Breton legends, which is now with the illustrator. A collection of his short stories is soon to be published. Currently, he
is working on a dramatisation of the trial of Jeanne d'Arc presided over by Pontius Pilate.